Blurred vision a winner
Barry Oliver reveals how a Sydney architect found a new slant on the harbour city’s most famous building
AS an architect, Charles Fortin knows a thing or two about buildings. He also knows quite a bit about photographing them, judging from his win this week in a competition run by the Sydney Opera House. Fortin, 30, from McMahons Point on Sydney’s lower north shore, emerged triumphant from 2150 entries worldwide with his highly unusual shot of what must be one of the world’s most photographed buildings.
The brief for would-be photographers was to come up with something different: what the judges didn’t want was another shot of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge in the background. Let your imagination run wild, they were told. The only rule was that photographs had to be of the building’s exterior. ‘‘ We want photographers to surprise and amaze the judges,’’ was the message from Sydney Opera House chief executive Richard Evans.
Fortin certainly did that with PhantomoftheOpera (his title), a photograph taken from a moving ferry on his way home from work one evening. It was one of five that he entered, the maximum allowed under the competition rules.
Digital manipulation was permitted but Fortin shuns such shenanigans: ‘‘ I’m very strict about what I do to my photos.’’ Instead he simply shook his Canon camera to achieve the desired effect. ‘‘ After several attempts at shooting the Opera House from a moving ferry, I decided to create a shot that would utilise the ferry’s movement rather than trying to fight it. By moving the camera along the ferry’s path of travel you get this phantom-like impression naturally, and without postprocessing enhancement.’’ He also says a new $1400 lens helped produce the required result.
The competition, House in Focus, was intended to encourage people to share their interpretations of the building and was the result of a long-standing relationship between the Opera House and HewlettPackard. Entries were shown online, using HewlettPackard’s Snapfish website, with the initial voting by the public. The top 10 contenders were then judged by Jan Utzon, son of the Danish architect Joern Utzon, who designed the much-loved building; photographer Eric Sierens, director of Max Dupain and Associates; and Michael Mendenhall, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Hewlett-Packard.
Jan Utzon said he was impressed by the number of novel ways the building was portrayed by entrants. So, does he have a favourite view? ‘‘ Having lived with the building for almost all of my life makes choosing a particular view impossible. For me the building is the whole organism, inside and out.
‘‘ This is the main reason for choosing the winning image. It shows nothing, it shows everything. It is like an impressionist painting. It lets your mind produce the images and fill in the gaps.
‘‘ The motif was depicted in so many beautiful and original ways that one could find a winner in many different categories. However, the winning shot shows the Opera House in a subliminal way. It shows the spirit of the building, a parallel to the impressionistic sketches my father submitted for the Opera House competition in 1957.’’
Hewlett-Packard’s Mendenhall agreed and said Fortin’s photograph was a clear winner. ‘‘ It shows movement, excitement, vibrancy and an innovative approach. He obviously gave it a lot of thought and did a great job.’’
Although the contest attracted entries from 25 countries, as far afield as Malaysia and Colombia, Fortin lives little more than a stone’s throw from the Opera House and the two runners-up are also from Sydney.
He was taking a break skiing at Perisher Blue in the NSW Snowy Mountains when he learned of his win, which earns him a Hewlett-Packard HP Touchsmart desktop computer. In addition, his image will be put on a large-scale canvas and displayed in the western foyer of the Opera House throughout September, and he also receives a big canvas of his winning entry. Runners-up James O’Toole from Narrabeen and Alicia Higgins from Pyrmont each win a generously proportioned canvas of their image, a roof tile from the Opera House collected during construction, and a copy of Building a Masterpiece: The Sydney Opera House .
The winner, born in Canada, has lived in the city for three years. He estimates he took about 500 photographs of the building for the competition: ‘‘ I just kept shooting and shooting and eventually I got a couple that stood out.’’
The ferry ride gave him the vantage point he was seeking. ‘‘ Actually it was quite frustrating because I was trying to get a nice depth shot and couldn’t get it right. So I thought, OK, I’ll try some blurry ones. It was lucky that the distance of the ferry was just right. It all worked perfectly.’’
As for his $1400 lens, Fortin says he never imagined spending so much money, but it proved to be a wise investment. ‘‘ It’s very good for night shots. As you can see from the image, it really captures a lot of different shades of light.’’ (Enthusiasts might like to know he used a Canon 400D with a 50mm 1.2 lens at an aperture of 1.2, timing 1.3 seconds, and ISO100.)
Fortin describes himself as a keen amateur photographer, taking ‘‘ easily 300 to 400 shots a week’’. ‘‘ It’s a hobby. I just love it. I’m really happy to shoot whenever I get the chance.
‘‘ My approach was that the Opera House has been shot so many times, and so many professionals will do it perfectly, that I’m going to have to do something to make it happen, tweaking it or making it blurred. There was a lot of luck involved.’’
He admits to a love of the Opera House that partly stems from his work.
‘‘ Buildings are like people, they have personalities . . . the Opera House always reminds me that it’s sometimes important to take a chance on design.’’
In the picture: Charles Fortin in front of the much-photographed Opera House
Our house: Fortin’s winning photograph, , top, taken from a Sydney ferry at night, and one of hundreds that he shot for the competition; and the
runners-up, by James O’Toole, centre, and Alicia Higgins, above